As of late, good quality B movies have grown increasingly difficult to find. While that could be because the economics of producing these side releases – ones traditionally lacking any major star power or studio-wattage-budget – have fallen at the way side. It’s thriftier to throw together some horror or torture schlock than it is to get a credible hero-driven vehicle onto the big screen – if you have the money to invest, that is – and I can help but believe the cineplexes are suffering because of it. That’s why when I find a good quality B picture, I do what I can to draw attention to it; I’d love to see more of ‘em, but, until I do, I’ll celebrate the better efforts that come along.
(Note: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessarily solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers reviews entirely spoiler-free, this won’t be for you. However, you may skip to the bottom – the last two paragraphs – for a brief summary of my impressions. If you’re okay with a few tidbits of insider info, then read on.)
Aradius – a distant world mined of its natural resources – lies in apocalyptic waste on the edge of the universe. Largely abandoned, the desert world holds the remnants of a once strong people and those humans who couldn’t afford passage off once the planet was evacuated. An outcast, Hirokin (played by Wes Bentley) is a hybrid – the genetic mix of indigenous people and Earthlings. He’s taken a wife, Terra (Mercedes Manning), and raised a sun … but when they’re captured and taken to the stronghold of the planet’s dictator, Griffin (Julian Sands), Hirokin will uncover the secret to his ancestors long-lost abilities to bend time, a curious superpower called the Wei. If he perseveres, he may survive long enough to unite the various tribes, take back the planet, and restore piece to the world!
HIROKIN is a noble effort, mostly flawed by the limitations of budget and a cast of actors who couldn’t quite capture the magic needed of an ensemble to elevate this story to a higher level. The Wei – Hirokin’s ability to see across time – plays out much like ‘The Force’ does in George Lucas’s stellar STAR WARS series of films; it’s clear that writer/director Alejo Mo-Sun went to that well for inspiration. Anticipating the moves of one’s opponent can clearly give the warrior an edge in battle, and that’s essentially all the Wei does – there are hints toward other mystical abilities, but nothing is ever explored. So with a fallen prince, his kidnapped wife, and an evil king, it’s easy to see the associations toward other works.
Unfortunately, Bentley never appears all that invested as an actor in telling this story. While it’s easy to dismiss this as the failings of the script, I’d argue that he still never shows much range in what modest investment the tale requires. As the wanderer/hero, he’s content to roam, speak softly (if ever), and carry a big stick – in this case a samurai sword. There are no guns on Aradius, so the good guys and the bad guys are left with only samurai swords – an Earthly creation, so far as we know (and the script never clarifies otherwise) – and there’s no explanation provided for how they got here.
Also, if you’re a nomadic tribe wandering a desert world, wouldn’t you naturally take to caves? Hirokin’s people tend to wander more or less out in the open, choosing tents as their method of housing, over caves that appear to be reserved for saloons or marketplace settings. I’d think that would be the other way around, as the folks ambushed in the film’s first act might’ve been able to avoid the opening massacre since the marauders might not have found them. (I’ll happily chalk this up to a script idea not being as well thought out as it should’ve been.)
Lastly, Griffin’s marauders are a bit of an anomaly. Again, for warriors, they’re garbed from head to toe behind metal masks and heavy cloaks. Is that the best combat wear for these desert settings? I’ve no doubt that the actors and stunt people were dramatically hampered behind these masks; much of their movement and fight choreography is clearly stilted and slow – and why wouldn’t it be? I don’t think they could see where they were going! Watch the opening ‘massacre’ sequence closely, and I think you’ll easily agree.
To its credit, I don’t think HIROKIN set out to be more than a respectable B picture, and, on that level, it excels. There are the requisite story comparisons to such works as STAR WARS, FLASH GORDON, DUNE, and even THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I think much of it was accomplished reverentially here – not meant to be copied and paste from one work to another but merely inspiring Mo-Sun’s choices for his own li’l epic. For the most part, he succeeds, and I’ve no problem giving him and his cast and crew three worthy stars for the effort. It kept my interest. It’ll never garner any awards, but it kept my interest.
HIROKIN: THE LAST SAMURAI is produced by AME. DVD distribution is being handled by Lionsgate. As for the technical specs, the picture quality is quite good consistently throughout; sound quality is good, but there are a few sequences that were possibly poorly miked OR poorly mixed in post – it’s hard to tell. Still, it didn’t dramatically distract from my enjoyment of the movie. The disc has a nice assortment of special features, though they’re all extremely brief. There’s a nice ‘Creating Aradius’ segment that clearly indicates that writer/director Mo-Sun had an ambitious scale that understandably had to be scaled back due to limitations of the budget. Also, there are a handful of deleted scenes, as well as a short feature on fight training. Because I love both sci-fi and B pictures, I would’ve loved to have something with greater depth, but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be with this release.
RECOMMENDED for fans of B-films and science fiction. Quality B movies are hard to come by these days – and, yes, I mean respectable quality, not low budget (of which there are too many) – and HIROKIN certainly fills that bill. No, it may not be the best exercise in cinema ‘world creation’ that you’re likely to see this year, but I suggest it’s far from the worse. Some overly wooden acting, some questionable script logic, and some poor fight choreography (in the first half, less in the climax) do impact the quality of the overall film … but, as I said, it’s a B-picture, so, on that level, I was entertained. I hope you will be, too!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with a DVD screener copy of HIROKIN: THE LAST SAMURAI by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.